All visitors to the US must have a valid passport. Citizens of 38 countries may enter visa free under the Visa Waver Program for stays of up to 90 days. To use this program you must have an e-Passport embedded with an electronic chip and apply for eligibility through ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) prior to travel. Everyone else needs a visa. Upon arrival in the US, a Customs and Border Protection Officer will make the final call to allow entry. Be prepared to show a return ticket.
Consulates within the US, including those of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, are unable to intervene in legal matters, but can provide help and advice to visiting nationals.
Clearing customs and immigration at LAX can be a lengthy procedure. Even transit passengers must be processed, so lines can be long. There are staff on hand to direct you to the appropriate line. Automated kiosks that scan your passport and take your picture will issue you a slip of paper that you need to take to an immigration officer.
Everyone over the age of 21 is allowed a liter of liquor and 200 cigarettes duty free. US citizens may bring in $400 worth of gifts and non-US citizens only $100. Cash over the value of $10,000 needs to be declared. Fresh meat, plants, and products from any endangered species are prohibited.
Visitors can get up-to-date travel safety information from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the US Department of State, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Ensure that you get comprehensive travel insurance before traveling either to or around the US. Double check that this covers you for all eventualities, such as trip interruptions, lost baggage, cancelled or delayed flights and medical expenses.
If you are travelling to the US from abroad, always check with your primary healthcare insurer or provider at home to see if you will be covered while away. The American health care system can be extremely expensive for those without insurance, so while you won’t be denied medical care in an emergency room, you can expect to leave with a large bill.
If you are renting a car, establish what your auto insurer and credit card company cover in case of accident or theft. Also check if there are extra payments to be made when the car is returned
No vaccinations are required for visitors entering the US.
Don’t underestimate the effects of overdoing it in hot, muggy weather. It’s easy to feel exhausted after a day of intensive activity such as hiking. Although air quality has improved dramatically, sensitive lungs can feel air pollution on certain days, especially the further inland you are.
Enjoy the brilliant sunshine, but slather on the sunscreen during the day and be sure to take a hat whenever you are outdoors. California has one of the country’s highest incidences of skin cancer, which is no surprise since most people pursue outdoor activities all year round.
Ocean waters are generally clean, except for three days after a heavy storm. Accumulated and untreated runoff from miles away washes down storm drains and empties into the ocean, and sewer leaks are common. If you go swimming at these times, you can expect to fall sick.
Dangerous riptides can occur along the coast; ask the lifeguards about swimming conditions at the beach. Posted green flags indicate safe swimming, yellow mean caution, and red flags denote hazardous surf. If you are caught in a riptide, let the current carry you down the coast until it dies out, and then swim in to shore.
LA tap water is heavily chlorinated and therefore not particularly tasty, despite being perfectly drinkable. Bottled water is widely available. Free water served in restaurants is always tap water.
Smoking is illegal in most public places, including airports, post offices, stores and theaters, as well as in all restaurants and cafés. Some bars and nightclubs have separate outdoor areas for smoking.
Major drugstores such as CVS, Longs Drugs, and Rite Aid have full-service pharmacies, most of which keep late hours (some are open 24 hours a day). If you take prescription drugs, it’s best to bring your own supply.
Despite a reputation to the contrary, Los Angeles is a fairly safe city, especially in touristy neighborhoods. Of course, common sense applies. Be aware of your surroundings when using the ATM and watch your belongings in crowded areas like Venice Beach or Hollywood Boulevard. Having personal property stolen is the most likely crime you may encounter in LA. Never leave items visible in your car.
If you have lost something on a Metro Bus or Rail, allow about three days for your property to be logged into the Lost and Found system.
After dark, take care in Venice Beach and some areas of Downtown and Hollywood. Walk away from problems before they escalate, especially when leaving bars and nightclubs. If approached, a polite “sorry, not today” is usually enough to be left alone.
LA is a cosmopolitan city, and women travelers should not have any special problems. Gaining admission to trendy nightclubs is much easier for women than for men. It is always wise to be alert to your surroundings, especially after dark. Do not walk on the beach alone at night and be careful in parking lots. Take the usual precautions at hotels and be aware of your surroundings.
Dial 911 for ambulance, fire, or police. This toll-free number will be answered by an operator, who will send out the respective emergency response service. In a serious emergency, medical assistance is available 24 hours a day in hospital emergency rooms. Cheaper options can be urgent care clinics, which accept patients on a walk-in basis. Expect to pay for services before treatment. Call your insurance company for a referral to a local doctor.
Los Angeles is a relatively accessible place for those with visual, mobility, or hearing impairments. By law, all public buildings, museums, and restaurants must have wheelchair access. Sidewalk curbs are cut to facilitate movement, hotels have rooms with extra wide doors, and car-rental agencies offer special hand-controlled cars. Buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and all LA Metro Rail stations are wheelchair accessible.
Paper notes come in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. Rare but still in circulation are $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 and $100,000. Coins are 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, and $1. There is a slight gold cast to some $1 coins and they are slightly larger and heavier than a 25¢ coin. If paying for anything in cash with a merchant, expect to have any paper bills larger than a $20 scrutinized. Quarters are useful for parking meters, buses, laundromats, and vending machines.
LAX has international exchange kiosks, but rates are not competitive. LA Currency offers good rates and has locations in Downtown and in Hollywood. Major banks handle most transactions, but bring at least two forms of ID. Large hotels often exchange currency as well, but often offer bad rates.
There are 24-hour ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) all over the city. Look behind your ATM or credit card to see which banking network it’s associated with. ATMs inside convenience stores or malls charge you for the privilege, as can your own bank if you go outside the network.
Most major banks are found throughout Los Angeles. Banking hours are usually from 9 or 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, with Saturday hours from 9am to 1 or 2pm.
Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards are widely accepted, Diners Club and American Express cards slightly less so, especially in smaller shops. If you are using a non-US issued credit card, make sure the card has a magnetic strip on the back, as chip-and-pin readers are not always in use. Travelers’ checks are quite hard to cash.
Coin telephones are hard to find in Los Angeles, but they still exist at LAX, some transit areas, hospitals, some hotels and restaurants, and government buildings. You can contact emergency services at 911 without coins from any of these phones. Disposable cell phones with pre-set calling amounts are readily available at most convenience stores.
If you carry an unlocked phone, you can find SIM cards to fit it with a variety of prepaid, no-contract plans at supermarkets and corner stores. T-Mobile and AT&T stores also carry SIM cards. If your home is outside the country, the best way to communicate is through Wi-Fi, using Skype or the phone app WhatsApp. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are everywhere: cafés, fast-food restaurants, shopping centers, and bookstores are common spots to find them. Public libraries usually also have computer terminals to use, as do hostels, but you must be a guest. Most hotels offer free Wi-Fi, as does LAX. High-end hotels usually charge for Internet access.
Depending on the branch, postoffice hours are 8:30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, with some branches open on Saturday mornings. Post offices can be found throughout the city.
Stamps are usually available from vending machines in the lobby, and signage indicates the cost of postage for mail sent to domestic and international addresses. Stamps can also be found at many supermarkets and franchised mail service stores, which also provide shipping services. Hotel concierges can post mail for you.
FedEx and UPS offer courier services with guaranteed overnight delivery and reliable international service. Many of their franchise offices sell packaging supplies. Much cheaper, the US Postal Service offers overnight service in the continental US and two- and three-day service internationally.
All major television networks have affiliate stations in LA, and there is no shortage of local news stations with helicopters in the sky to cover the latest police chase or red-carpet movie premiere. Educational TV is served by PBS SoCal, KLCS, and independent KCET. Spanish- and Asian-language TV and radio are widely available.
Every genre of music or political persuasion has a radio station for it. News, traffic reports, and talk radio shows reside on the AM dial. KFI 640AM offers local and syndicated talk shows, while KNX 1070AM broadcasts 24-hour news.
On the FM dial, public and college radio stations host National Public Radio-affiliated KCRW 89.9FM, with its variety of eclectic music, in-depth news reporting, and interest stories; KUSC 91.5FM sponsors classical music; and KKJZ 89.9FM has one of the region’s better jazz stations.
Surprising for a world city, the Los Angeles Times is its only major newspaper. Cities within Los Angeles County publish their own local papers. The free LA Weekly is a good source for what’s on. You’ll find restaurant reviews, and movie, theater, and music listings. Copies can be found throughout the city.
Most museums are open from 10am to 5pm. Always check the website or call before making plans, since many close one day out of the week.
Stores usually open at 10am and close between 5 and 6pm. Regular hours at malls are 10am to 9pm Monday to Saturday and 11am to 7pm Sunday.
Department stores sometimes open at 7am for super sales or extend their hours during the holiday season. Malls close only during a few major holidays, such as Christmas and New Years; however, some stores may be open on Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) and Easter Sunday. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding 24-hour convenience stores, gas stations, drug stores, and supermarkets. A few large supermarkets are open 24 hours as well.
From the first Sunday in November until the second Sunday in March, Los Angeles operates on Pacific Standard Time (PST). For the remaining months the clock moves ahead one hour and becomes Pacific Daylight Time (PDT).
The US uses plugs with two flat blades that sometimes have an additional round grounding pin. While either of these will fit into an American socket, those traveling from abroad will need a plug adaptor to use foreign appliances. It is much be easier to buy this before you leave as most adaptors sold in the US are for Americans traveling abroad. However, if you do forget to bring an adaptor, some Best Buy stores carry them.
Most modern electronics are designed to work on either the 110 or 220 volt system. In America, the power is set at 110 volts and 220-volt devices will not work efficiently without a power converter or a transformer.
While most hotels provide hair dryers, these, like most small appliances, are inexpensive to buy at discount stores.
LA has a moderate climate with low humidity and cool evenings, even in summer. Rain is most likely from January to March. Late spring often presents what locals call “May gray” and “June gloom,” when low cloud cover never seems to end, but just as easily you can get endless days of sun.
Summer is the busiest time of year, with warm days and cool yet pleasant evenings on the coast. Further inland, the temperatures soar, making any time spent outdoors uncomfortable. Showers during this time of year are incredibly rare.
The LA Tourism and Convention Board maintains a convenient visitor center in Hollywood, where you can pick up a wealth of information. In addition, there are organisations such as Santa Monica Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, Beverly Hills Visitors’ Bureau, and Pasadena Visitors’ Bureau.
Crowd-sourced review websites are fantastic for helping you choose from the city’s plentiful attractions and restaurants. Use these sites with care, though, as reviews can often be unreasonable or even fraudulently written.
StarLine Tours has run bus tours in Los Angeles and the surrounding area for decades. Tours on the hop-on, hop-off double-decker buses stop at some of the city’s most popular locations and you can even opt for a tour that passes the homes of the stars. On board, recorded audio provides narration about everything that you are seeing. StarLine also offers transportation to the region’s plentiful amusement parks.
TMZ Tours specializes in driving by the hotspots of the Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and wherever else the TV cameras find celebrities to ambush. A popular feature on TMZ buses is a monitor that plays a clip from the TV show of a site before you arrive.
The unique architecture of LA – especially that of Hollywood, Pasadena, and Downtown – is featured in daily in-depth tours run by Laura Massino’s Architecture Tours. LA Conservancy Tours also offer outstanding walking tours of LA’s architectural highlights. Themes include the Broadway Historic Theatre District, Historic Downtown, and Art Deco. Tours depart every Saturday morning.
Esotouric travels through the quirky and secret side of LA, covering themes such as Raymond Chandler’s literary noir, or retracing the final steps of LA’s greatest murder mystery: the Black Dahlia.
Neon Cruise, put on by the Museum of Neon Art, presents nighttime double-decker bus tours of LA’s finest examples of neon signs, marquees, and contemporary art.
For those interested in Hollywood macabre and paranormal, crime scenes, and filming sites of your favorite horror film, Dearly Departed Tours will take you there.
You can find a mall to explore in almost every region of LA, each featuring an almost identical list of stores. If you’re in search of a bargain, the best time to shop is around the public holidays.
Far more interesting are the independent boutiques scattered throughout the city – this is where you’ll find unusual, ethnic, and vintage items. Santa Monica’s Montana Avenue, Main Street, and 3rd Street Promenade are the best spots.
Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Melrose Avenue will appeal to the super stylish. West 3rd Street between La Cienega and Fairfax is also lined with unique shops.
For rock-bottom prices try Downtown’s Fashion District, but be prepared to pick through dizzying amounts of merchandise to find quality.
At the other extreme, any boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills will happily dress you like a star for the price of a small house.
With endless choices, people in LA love to go out to eat. From trendy restaurants presided over by god-like celebrity chefs to food trucks with equally fabulous fare, LA eateries offer just about anything you can desire or imagine.
In the better restaurants menus emphasize what’s fresh and seasonal with local sourcing. Don’t be shy in asking for the availability of gluten-free, lactose-free, non-GMO, and allergy-free food; everybody does it. Ethnic restaurants are one of LA’s greater pleasures, with Latin American food leading the way. Or if you crave anything from Ethiopian to Cambodian cuisine, a restaurant somewhere will serve it.
Always reserve and expect to wait once you arrive. Many restaurants subscribe to an online booking service such as OpenTable. Unlike restaurants in other countries, where you have a table for the evening, LA restaurants expect you to vacate the table after a certain amount of time – you may start to feel the pressure after you’ve finished dessert and coffee.
Regardless of one’s views on tipping, servers expect at least 15 percent, while 20 percent is the norm. Large parties will find an 18 percent gratuity added to the check.
All restaurants will welcome children; the trick is to go early, when staff have the time to tend to you. If your kids are adventurous eaters, the ethnic restaurants here are especially accommodating. The best places for family-friendly restaurants are Santa Monica Bay and the Disney Resort areas.
LA is vast and the traffic congestion can be bad, so pick a hotel reasonably near the area that you intend to spend most time in to avoid hours on the road every day. In general, anything close to the ocean will be more expensive than similar accommodations elsewhere. Always factor in the price of parking, which can be $45/night in some luxury hotels.
Bed and breakfasts are becoming more common, but they are usually in buildings of charm or historic interest and tend to be expensive – unlike their counterparts in Europe.
All the usual motel chains are represented, but they may not always be in an inspiring location. Parking and Wi-Fi are usually free though.
For those visiting the Disney Resort for multiple days, it’s often more sensible to relocate to a hotel in its vicinity. Located in areas of interest for visitors, such as Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Venice, they offer a friendly atmosphere and good budget tips posted on the bulletin boards. It’s a good idea to read the reviews on the hostel booking sites to see what you are likely to get. There are no tent camping facilities within an hour’s drive of LA.
Rare is a hotel with a standard year-round posted rate. Factors that determine the cost of your room are the time of year and whether it’s the middle of the week or the weekend. Summers and holidays are high season. Generally on a weekend, Downtown hotels may be less expensive. Some hotels near the beach will require a minimum two-night stay.
Hotel occupancy tax is 14 percent, and Santa Monica adds a $2/day city tax. Upscale hotels are known for charging resort fees and Wi-Fi access. If you call the hotel directly and not the central reservation number, you may be able to negotiate some of these fees.
Online booking sites, such as Booking.com are useful places to look. Airbnb is a popular site for private property rentals, which can be a unique – and cheaper – alternative to hotels and hostels.
Always read the online reviews carefully, but remember, these aren’t always genuine.
2029 Century Park East, Ste. 3150
550 South Hope St, 9th floor
2425 Olympic Blvd, Ste. 600E, Santa Monica
2029 Century Park East, Ste. 1350
3571 Pasadena Ave
9400 Santa Monica Blvd
6801 Hollywood Blvd
300 E Green St
2427 Main St